Category Archives: Religion

Philosophy East and West, Pt III; “Dao Deh Jing” Ch. II

This is part 3 of a series, if this part does not make sense to you, the following links with take you to Parts One and Two

Chapter II.

A. “Yin, Yang and the Two Truths”

The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.

Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;

The difficult and easy complement each other;

The long and short off-set each other;

The high and low incline towards each other;

Note and sound harmonize with each other;

Before and after follow each other.” Dao Deh Jing II.4-6

 

In the first half of this chapter we see a list of pairs of opposites. According to conventional truth, the opposites are completely other from each other, but from the perspective of Ultimate truth, they are *the Same*.

Traditional Chinese origin myths always began with the mating of two original principles of Yin and Yang. What Classical Chinese philosophy adds to this myth is the idea that underlying the Yin Yang dualism there must be a common unified principle which they called the “Dao”. Both Daoists and Confucians used this term in this way, although their approaches were quite different. In any case, this relates to “Two Truths” theory from the previous post since we clearly see that we have preceded from a discussion of the Two Truths into a series of complementary opposites, each of which form an underlying unity. If you look at the Yin-Yang symbol above with this in mind, you see that this is exactly what is illustrated; within each opposite half is a core that belongs to the other. In each case it is said that the opposites define, produce, or complement each other. Thus it seems the the Yin and Yang pattern spans radically different levels of discourse:

  1. conceptual definitions – It is commonly noticed that many things cannot be defined without their opposites; e.g. odd and even, more and less, good and bad.
  2. production by nature of skill – “Thus Something and Nothing produce each other”; in which yin and yang are placed directly in the realm of form and matter, i.e. Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory of change, a theory of natural and artificial change. More on this later!
  3. value – “complement each other” refers to the fact that many things are worthless without a opposite counterpart. For example fuel is worthless without oxygen, a tool without material, building material without a location, the weather without land, etc.

In the next section, we see another version of the yin and yang, where the highest/best exemplar of a thing is alson the same as the highest exemplar of its opposite:

Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action and practices the teaching that uses no words.” Dao Deh Jing II.6

The greatest action consisting laisez-faire, non-intervention, being fully present as an example, or some other small token action done at the right time. In Chinese this is called “Wei wu wei”, literally “doing not doing”. The greatest action is in simply being there and acting very little. The natural world is filled with these things: in biology, for example, the most intricate design appears with no designer.

In the last section, this trait is attributed to the lack of selfish motive or egoistical method in taking the action:

The myriad creatures rise from it yet it claims no authority; it gives them life yet claims no possession; it benefits them yet exacts no gratitude; it accomplishes its task yet claims to no merit. It is because it claims no merit that its merit never deserts it.” Dao Deh Jing II.7,7a

This gibes well with many findings of modern science; evolution is not so elegant in spite of the lack of a Intelligent Designer, but because of that lack. Guiding intelligence would ruin Nature. Likewise with society; a properly run nation does what it does not because of the ruler, but in spite of them; the best ruler will simply get out of the way.

What Lao Tzu shares with Greek thought is the idea that metaphysics’ proper task is a comprehensive theory of change that suits both the natural, the artificial and the political. In both China and Greece none of these realms can be reduced to another, but they are all subsumed to the highest form of knowledge with draws closest to the general principles underlying cosmic levels of both permanence and change. While Greek thought includes extended reflection on the logically necessary that is lacking in the Dao Deh Jing, However, Aristotle shares with Daosim the attitude that reflection on the natural is of higher dignity to the conceptual.

 

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Philosophy East and West: Pt.1 -Introduction

Introduction – The Four Noble Truths of Philosophy.

A lot is said about the differences between Eastern and Western philosophy. A great many people are of the opinion that if we gave equal time to Eastern thought in our education, it would revolutionize our science and/or culture. Of course, such a statement is hard to confirm or deny without waiting for time to pass, but I find that most people who make this claim have no special expertise in any sort of philosophy at all. There is a commonly expressed idealistic preconception of Eastern thought that sees it as being the next level up from Western ideas, such that it seems like foolishness to us Westerners, much like the way that philosophy or science seems like foolishness to the layman. In many cases, this is true, for example Descartes’ famous cogito is quite vulnerable to many Eastern criticisms. However, Descartes is not the last word from the West. Although Buddhism may have been the best challenge to Descartes in his time, there are now better approaches, although Buddhism is still worth a place in the conversation even today.

My approach is heavily influenced by both Eastern and Western thought, and I am not completely sure that I would have reached my current views without heavy exposure to Eastern theory and practice. However, I do think that Eastern thought is for sure not so very far ahead of Western. I do not want to bother with claiming one or the other is better in any unqualified sense, or that one of the two is optional for further progress on our most important questions.

I think that what they share is more fundamental than how they differ. In my view they all share the following four features:

  1. That there are “Many Things“, that we find in this world.
    1. Objects
    2. People
    3. Organisms
    4. Facts
    5. Data
    6. Occurrences
  2. The Many Things are Problematic in some way.
    1. They do not quite make sense.
    2. They are hard to predict.
    3. They suffer or cause suffering.
  3. There is a “One Special Thing
    1. behind,
    2. under or
    3. above all the Many Things.
    4. This One Thing is somehow intrinsically related to all the Many Things, much like God or Natural Law.
  4. The One Special Thing from step three might be the Solution to the Problem of step two.

As I was writing, the above, I noticed how similar the four points were to the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths”. However, the steps could be filled out with values from numerous schools of thought from all over the world. In the following, we will look at the starting points of the three major sources of philosophy that the world has had in the past.

The Plan of the Treatise.

We shall start with the tradition of China and proceed to Greece and India and see how each of them compare. We shall choose for our examples three ckassic books and under each we list the four headings that we gave above: Many Things, The Problem, The One Special Thing, and the resulting Solution to the Problem:

  1.  The Tao Teh Ching. of China.
    1. The Ten Thousand Things; Heaven and Earth
    2. Life out of Balance/Ignorance of the Way
    3. The Way (Tao)
    4. True Power (Teh)
  2. The Bhagavad Gita of India.
    1. The nature of Maya.
      1. Complete Illusions
      2. Relative Delusion
    2. The Root of Ignorance – Confusion about your self.
    3. The Immortal Atman. – Your True Self
    4. The Science of Raja Yoga – Connecting with the True Self
      1. Study – Jnana Yoga
      2. Worship – Bhakti Yoga
      3. Morality – Panca Sila
      4. Yogic observances
      5. Meditation – Dhyana Yoga
      6. Service – Karma Yoga
  3. The Metaphysics by Aristotle.
    1. What are there? – Nature, Good, Forms
    2. What problems are there?
      1. Cosmological Decay
      2. “Frustration” of Nature
      3. Moral Vice
      4. Ignorance
    3. The Arche and the Four Causes.
    4. The Solution:
      1. Skill
      2. Virtue
        1. Moral Virtue
        2. Intellectual Virtue

There could be many other choices for these: in each of these traditions, there is a great variety of schools of thought that radically disagree with each other. I do not want to efface the differences with or between Greece, India and China, but I think that what is shared among all of them is something that is very useful to know no matter which tradition you call home.

Notes on Aristotle’s “On the Soul”.

Book I

Ch. 1 (402.0)

What is the “Soul”?

  • By genus
    • nature – Is it physical , illusory, or supernatural?
    • form – is the soul a form?
    • matter – is it material?
  • By category
    • substance – Is it a separately existing being?
    • quality – Is it a property of a body?
    • quantity – Are there many souls, or is there ultimately just one “Oversoul”?
    • Is it an “affection” of the body? (Epiphenomenalism)
    • etc.
  • By potentiality/actuality (See Metaphysics Book IX)
  • Divisible or not?
    • Are souls discrete units, one per organism,
    • Or is it a subtle form of matter  that is fungible or not localized?

Questions for the study of the soul to answer.

  • Are all souls “the same”?
    • If not the same do they differ by species or by genus?
    • Most people tend to study the human soul only.
      • Are all animals a species of “animal soul”?
      • Or are each type of soul different in definition? “horse, dog, man, god”. (402.6-7
    • Are all souls separate of are they parts of one soul? (402.9)
  • The middle path between materialism and dualism.
    • “There is also the problem whether the properties of the soul are all common also to that which has it or whether they are peculiar to the soul itself; for it is necessary to deal with this, but not easy. It appears in most cases that the soul is not affected nor does it act apart from its body, e.g. in being away, being confident, wanting, and perceiving in general; although thinking looks most like being peculiar to the soul. But if this too is a form of imagination or does not exist apart from imagination, it would not be possible for even this to exist apart from the body.” (403.10)
    • For Aristotle, the separation of the soul and body is not like supernaturalistic dualism, but rather more like an abstract “software” for the hardware of the body.
      • For this reason, the Aristotelian “soul” is physically causal.
    • “It seems that all the affections of the soul involve the body – passion, gentleness, fear …for at the same time as these the body is affected in a certain way.  …  If this is so, it is clear that the affection of the soul are principles involving matter. Hence their definitions are such as ‘Being angry is a particular movement of a body of such and such a kind, or a part of potentiality of it, as a result of this thing and for the sake of that.’ And for this reason inquiry concerning the soul either every soul of this kind of soul, is at once the province of the student of nature.” (403d25-28)
    • “But the student of nature and the dialectician would define each of these differently, e.g. what anger is. For the latter would define it as a desire for retaliation or something of the sort, the former as the boiling of the blood and hot stuff around the heart. Of these, the one gives the matter, the other the form and principle.” (403d28ff)
      • Similarly, for the explanation of a computer system:
        • Physicist – As an electrical device
        • System analyst (“Dialectician”)-
          • Serves a function
          • Has form (software’s logical structure).
      • How similar is Aristotle’s soul theory to software?

According to G.M.A Grube (“Aristotle” page 97) the final cause of every organism is reproduction “after their own kind.” (415b26ff)

Question: Is this true? How similar is this to the modern evolutionary concept of adaptation? In the modern view, each organism is optimized to pursue a certain strategy of perpetuating its genotype.

Religion is not really a ‘meme parasite’.

 

The scientific case for apatheism.

 

1. Introduction

While the truth value of religious belief is still a subject of debate, this is even more true of religion’s utility. Even if we take an evolutionary approach and focus on religion purely as an adaptive strategy (thus we ignore consolation and other psychological motives), it can be a tricky business. It’s tricky enough that even someone like Richard Dawkins can draw dubious conclusions; for example in The Selfish Gene (1976) and in much of his writing (2006) and oratory thereafter, he famously frames religion as a “meme virus” or “meme parasite”.  This idea has been taken up by some serious researchers (Blackmore 2006), but mostly by myriad antitheist propagandists too numerous to mention. I am not disagreeing with the project of criticizing religion, I just think that while the concept of ‘meme’ is something that all humans need to understand, we have no scientific warrant to interpret religion as a ‘meme parasite’.

2. A possible response on behalf of religion.

Often defenses of religion depend on unempirical or meaningless ideas, but in this case a religious person has a ready rebuttal; they can clearly claim that far from being a parasite, religion is a helpful symbiont. It’s clearly not a virus, since it does not decimate the populations if affects; only isolated individuals die from it. And religious revivals are not separated by long periods of freedom from religion as in the case of viral epidemics. No, religion is there the whole time, so the antitheist has some work to do to define it as a ‘parasite’.

The defender of religions, on the other hand, must clearly interpret religion as a symbiont. If religion is a symbiont, it will very often have adaptive effects on its host, something which can be confirmed objectively. Mere feelings do not count; lots of things feel good but are not adaptive at all; what counts is something which give the host some competitive advantage in the struggle for survival. The apatheism I defend here believes that even though religious beliefs are not true, religious ‘memeplexes’ (a system of memes that are culturally inherited together; other memplexes include a set of skills, a genre of narrative, a song repertoire, origami, a clothing style, a subculture ) are symbionts whose contribution to human evolution can be defined and documented in evolutionary terms.

3. What is a ‘virus’?

Religions are memeplexes . However they are not meme parasites . ‘Meme parasites ’ may seem more scientific, but it is really only slightly better than ‘superstition’, ‘false consciousness’ or ‘delusion’. This can be seen by looking at a precise definition of ‘virus’, here given by Dawkins himself in The Extended Phenotype:

“..Crucial importance attaches to the means by which parasites propagate their genes out of a give host into a new host. If the parasite’s means of genetic exit is the same as the host’s, namely the host’s gametes or spores. There will be relatively little conflict between the ‘interests’ of parasite and host genes.” (Dawkins 1982 p.222)

Here is a clear and distinct difference between symbiont and parasite from a work that makes little mention of religion. The implication is that we have a clear criterion of parasitism so that biologists can clearly resolve any question over whether a relationship is symbiotic of parasitic:

“… the real reason why snail [the host] genes stand to gain from the some events as each other,              while fluke (the parasite) genes stand to gain from a different set of events, is simply this: all                 snail genes share the same route into the next generation: snail gametes. All fluke genes, on the        other hand, must use a different route, fluke cercariae, to get into the next generation. It is this fact alone which unites snail genes against fluke genes and vice versa. … If it were the case that                  the parasite’s genes passed out of the host’s body inside the host’s gametes, things might be                       different. The interests of host genes and parasite genes might not be quite identical, but they                         would then be very much closer than in the case of fluke and snail. … Under such circumstances                         the interests of parasite and host would be likely to coincide to such an extent that it might                    become difficult for us to detect that a separate parasite existed at all.” (Ibid 222)

This is the “genetic parasite criterion”; the difference between symbiosis and parasitism derives from how the virus and host transmit their genes to the next generation. If we could adapt this criterion to the world of memeplexes, we could find a ‘meme parasite criterion’, and thus refute or confirm antitheism.

Defining the meme parasite criterion – the gene meme distinction.

We define the criterion thusly: If it transmits its memes through the same means as the host transmits its genes, then a symbiosis will evolve. On the other hand, if it transmits itself another route than the host, then some maladaptive relationship will result. A difficulty here results from the fact that we are mixing genes and memes. In the above example of the snail, both identity of both snails and flukes were defined in terms of genes. But religions are memes and humans are… what? It seems that humans are both genes and religions are memes, so at first glance this seems to favor a parasitic interpretation of religion. However, even though family and ethnicity are a very large part of who we are, our identities are not merely genetic. After all, life is really information – it’s not really about any particular form of matter or energy. Even a purely physicalistic philosophy of mind can allow the possibility of implementing a human mind in a completely artificial body without any human genes. In fact, something like this may be the only way to prevent the extinction of humanity at some time in the distant future. In this light, current humans are like a hybrid of apes and Von Neumann probes. This means that their adaptation is based on both genetic and memetic (cultural) inheritance. I think it’s valid to assume that cultural behavior (of which religion is a special case) has adaptive value.

We will define the meme parasite criterion thusly: If it transmits through the same means as its host, then a symbiosis will evolve, but if it transmits through another way, the parasitism will evolve. In my assumption both memes and genes have:

  1. ‘Interests’ – This means that they compete with each other for opportunities or resources and define a ‘fitness landscape’ for themselves.
  2. Various means to accomplish this;
    1. competition – religions clearly compete with each other.
    2. Symbiosis – It seems clear that relgions have at least some adaptive value for the genes of their adherents.
    3. Parasitism – it seems possible that religions could be parasitic on their adherents.

Applying the criterion.

To my knowledge, Dawkins has never explicitly applied this criterion to religion or other memeplex anywhere in his work. So here’s an attempt at a memetic parasite criterion that might accuse religion of parasitism:

Crucial importance attaches to the means by which parasites propagate their genes or memes out of a given host into a new host. If the parasite’s means of memetic exit is the same as the host’s gene’s, namely the host’s ____ or ____, there will be relatively little conflict between the ‘interests’ of parasite and host memes. … the real reason why human genes stand to gain from the some events as each other, while religious memes stand to gain from a different set of events, is simply this: all human genes share the same route into the next generation: human gametes. All religious memes, on the other hand, must use a different route, [whatever] to get into the next generation.

Notice how this does not quite work? There are so many ways to transmit memes than genes; lateral transmission seems more common in the memosphere than the biosphere. However, a the majority of our memes are transmitted from parent to child in parallel with genes. Language is like this, but it is also overwhelmingly common with religious memeplexes. If it were true that religion is overwhelmingly acquired directly from parents, then it would seem that parasitism would not be likely according to our above criterion. Until this writing, I had always assumed that ~99% of religions people were just born into their religion, but according to a quick Google search, it seems that the truth is more complex. From our perspective, this raises the possibility of religious meme –parasitism, but I do not think that this effect is as ubiquitous as most anti-religionists might allege. From this perspective, it seems that parasitism would be rare if all children kept the faith of their parents, but in any situation dominated by conversions, this might not hold. Does this apply to converts to Islam in the West? Perhaps, but I think a more better case can be made for various ‘cults’ that find fertile missionary fields in wealthy countries. The perfect examples of this are ‘New Age’ beliefs and Scientology. Both of these appeal to wealthy people, however, it is doubtful if a culture dominated by either would be able to create the prosperity that they prefer. But this is not at all what most anti-religious people are referring to in calling religion a meme-parasite; they clearly intend this to refer to early modern and premodern Cristendom as well as other civilizations dominated by one of the great world religions. However, these cases are where it cannot truthfully apply, since it is in these circumstances where genes and religious memes are transmitted from parent to child most consistently.

 

Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine. New York, Oxford UP, 2006.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene.  New York, Oxford UP, 1976.

______________. The Extended Phenotype.  New York, Oxford UP, 1999.

______________. The God Delusion.  New York, Oxford UP, 2006.

Dennet, Daniel. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. New York, Touchstone, 1995.

 

 

Galileo’s Theology of Science

 

How did modern people come to view science as independent of religion? It’s rather amazing that so many people could accept the apparent divergence of  science from their articles of faith, and that they could see as legitimate a political and legal system in which that was a possibility. Much of this can be traced back to the Galileo affair, which can deservedly be called the “Trial of the Millennium”. Galileo was the first to put into modern form the rationale for the autonomy of religion and science, something that grows more  important as science seems to be growing more revolutionary.

It was Galileo’s good fortune to be alive at the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, and thus to make great advances in astronomy even though he was primarily a mathematician and physicist. It was his bad fortune, however, to be dragged into yet another, far more politically charged field, that of theology. While it is true that “hindsight is 20/20”, there are a few aspects of the Galileo affair that tend to be unclear to the non-historian. For example, while most people see how the theory of evolution could contradict the Bible, it seems a bit much to claim that one can prove God to be a geocentrist. After all, we heliocentrists still say that the sun “comes up” or “goes down”, so what’s the big deal? The “big deal” concerns many aspects of the Modern Age that we take for granted. In this essay we shall focus on two these, the “autonomy of science” and a modern view of historical progress.

The “autonomy of science” really means the independence of any field or sphere of activity, such as politics, science, theology, art, economy, technology, et cetera. The classic example of this is the “separation of church and state” or, on another level, the independence of Faith and Reason. While it has always been the case that spiritual and temporal authority have been somewhat separate, it is distinctive of the modern age that this separation has grown ever more distant as time goes on. Prior to Galileo, faith and reason were held to be separate, but “Reason” was defined as the philosophy and science of St. Thomas Aquinas, far different from our modern progressive open-ended concept of reason.

In the final analysis, Galileo’s theological innovations can be boiled down to two principles of Biblical interpretation: First, that one must use scientific knowledge (natural reason) to interpret scripture:

“…though the Scripture cannot err, nevertheless some of its interpreters and expositors can sometimes err in various ways. One of these would be very serious and very frequent, namely to want to limit oneself always to the literal meaning of the words; for there would thus emerge not only various contradictions but also serious heresies and blasphemies, and it would be necessary to attribute to God feet, hands, and eyes, as well as bodily and human feelings like anger, regret, hate and sometimes even forgetfulness of things past and ignorance of future ones. Thus in scripture on finds many propositions which look different from the truth if one goes by the literal meaning of the words, but which are expressed in this manner to accommodate the incapacity of common people.” (Finochiaro pg. 49-50)

 

This principle dates back to St. Augustine, but has only recently become so important in modern times, as “non-overlapping magisterial”, or “NOMA”, for short.

NOMA radically claims that the Bible (and thus the Church?) had authority in matters concerning faith and morals, but not nature and science. Here is Galileo’s statement of NOMA:

“The authority of the Holy Writ has merely the aim of persuading men of those articles which are necessary for their salvation and surpass all human reason… I do not think it necessary to believe that the same God who has furnished us with senses, language, and intellect would want us to bypass their use and give us by other means the information we can obtain with them. This applies to those sciences about which one can read only very small phrases and scattered conclusions in the Scripture, as it is particularly the case for astronomy, of which it contains such a small portion that one does not find in it the names of all the planets; but if the first sacred writers had been thinking of persuading the people about the arrangement and the movements of the heavenly bodies, they would not have treated them so sparsely…(Ibid pg. 51-52)

 

In the 1600’s, NOMA would have been seen as an elaboration or radicalization of Aquinas’ doctrine of the separateness/ultimate agreement of Faith and Reason. Theists had long believed in the divine origin of nature and revelation, but Catholic theology was rather distinctive in including Reason as coming from God, meaning that radical fideism a la Tertullian (“I believe because it is absurd.”) is frowned upon. According to this teaching, if man was made “in the image of God”, then it seems likely that this refers to Reason. If this faculty of reason is in some way divine, then it is at least possible for it to share in God’s boundless knowledge of nature. Because of our mortal/sinful nature, our reason is incomplete without faith. The Christian humanism of Aquinas had convinced the church that there was no ultimate conflict between Reason and Faith, as Galileo explains thusly:

I think that no one will say that geometry, astronomy, music and medicine are treated more excellently in the sacred books than in Archimedes, Ptolemy, Boethius and Galen. So it seems that the royal preeminence belongs to it in the second sense, namely because of the eminence of the topic and because of the admirable teaching which could not be learned by men in any other way and which concerns chiefly the gaining of eternal bliss. … If all this is so, then officials and experts in theology should not arrogate to themselves the authority to issue decrees in the professions they neither exercise nor study; for this would be the same as if an absolute prince… being neither a physician nor an architect, wanted to direct medical treatment and the construction of buildings, resulting in serious dangers to the life of the unfortunate sick and the obvious collapse of structures. (Ibid pg. 100-101)

 

Galileo backs up his position with the authoritative St. Augustine’s On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, which warns Christians not to give heathen scholars cause to disrespect Christianity by using scripture to defend falsity:

It is very scandalous … that any infidel should hear a Christian speak about these things [science] as if he were doing so in accordance with Christian Scripture… the distressing thing is not so much that an erring man should be laughed at, but that our authors should be thought by outsiders to believe such things, and should be criticized and rejected as ignorant, to the great detriment of those whose salvation we care about. For how can they believe our books in regard to the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life and the kingdom of heaven, when they catch a Christian committing an error about something they know very well, when they declare things they have already been able to observe or to establish by unquestionable argument? (Quoted in Finochiario pg. 112)

 

One problem with NOMA in the modern age is that unlike classical thought, modern reason is always on the move, realizing its own limitations and transcending them. Originally NOMA was implemented by accepting Thomism as a stand-in for “reason”, but with the rise of modern science, “reason” is merely a place-holder for whatever results happen to be proven by researchers in the relevant fields of study.  If faith has to “respect” reason (as it must under NOMA) then it too must change in its interpretation and application. Furthermore, we can never have apodictic certainty as to when we have settled on the finally correct interpretation. This prolonged uncertainty is the bad side of progress, whose good side is emphasized by Galileo thusly: “Who wants to fix a limit for the human mind? Who wants to assert that every thing which is know able in the world is already known?” (Ibid pg. 51) This is a pretty modern sentiment for the age of witch trails, but progressivism is not utterly at odds with Christianity, especially if science can be marshaled “to the greater glory of God”, as it was during the Enlightenment.

To prohibit the entire science would be no different than to resist hundreds of statements of Holy Writ, which teach us how the glory and the greatness of the supreme God are marvelously seen in the open book of the heavens. Nor should anyone think that the reading of the very lofty words written on those pages is completed by merely seeing the sun and stars… on the contrary, those pages contain such profound mysteries and such sublime concepts that the vigils, labors, and studies of hundreds of the sharpest minds in uninterrupted investigation for thousands of years have not completely fathomed them. (Ibid pg. 103)

He then draws a parallel with the anatomical discoveries of Vesalius, who had recently proved classic authorities wrong empirically through dissection of human cadavers.

Even idiots realize that what their eyes see when they look at the external appearance of the body is insignificant in comparison to the admirable contrivances found in it by a competent and diligent philosopher anatomist when he investigates how many muscles, tendons, nerves and bones are used… (Ibid pg. 103)

 

Galileo hoped to create, in the minds of the authorities, an analogy between himself and Vesalius. Both improve on Aristotelian science though a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge as well as new methods of observation (dissection and the telescope) not available to the ancients.

For Galileo, the relation of faith and reason follows from his Christian/Platonic cosmology: “For the Holy Scripture and nature both equally derive from the divine Word, the former as the dictation of the Holy Spirit, the latter as the most obedient executrix of God’s commands…” (Ibid pg. 50)  This explicitly contrasts with the near-Manichean suspicion of nature implicit in much anti-witch ideology. It also helps to dispel the suspicion of science as secular and worldly in opposition to religion rather than its complement or supplement, as we see from this letter by Galileo:

…if I ask Froidmont whose works are the sun, the moon, the earth, the stars, their arrangement, and their motions, I think he will answer they are the works of God; and if I ask from whose inspiration Holy Scripture derives, I know he will answer that it comes from the Holy Spirit. Thus, if the world is the works, and the Scripture the words of the same God… Is it perhaps less noble and lofty to work than to speak? (Ibid pg. 224-225)

 

This statement is important for two reasons: first, it promotes action with respect to theory, something which essentially distinguishes modern from classical science. Second, it radically places astronomy in the category of divine knowledge and gives man access to the mind of God independent of revelation. While this greatly elevates the status of the scientist, it does not make him the equal of the priest.  According to Galileo, science can never reveal the purpose of the universe, only its behavior and usefulness in secular matters, but science completes faith by sharpening Biblical interpretation, by preventing the discredit of faith among the infidel, and by its revelation of the greater glory of God through his creation.

Though Galileo lost his immediate trial before the Inquisition, he has been elevated by history for his scientific work. However, it would also be fitting to memorialize his key role making science free and safe in a religious world. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII endorsed the view of science and faith first put forth by Galileo long before, an act which merely ratified a fait accompli. Science and faith had come to such an understanding such that by the time of Darwin, biologists had merely to follow the playbook set by Galileo centuries before.

 

 

God vs. the Fact/Value Distinction

A thought-experiment concerning explanation and metaethics.

Introduction

One radical result of Selection Theory (see previous post here) is the dissolution of the fact/value distinction. This distinction has plagued modern philosophy since its birth. However, reasoning from fact to values is not a category mistake per se; it’s just a problem shared by many philosophies other than Selection Theory. However, the fact-value distinction is not a problem with all non-Western and all pre-modern philosophy. To explain how this can be, let us embark on the following thought experiment:

Science in a “Creationist World”

Let’s imagine a Creationist World (CW), where some rational agent called “God” made everything. In CW, the ultimate explanation for everything about the human race leads back to one first principle: God.  In this world we could ask: “Why are there many races, cultures, and languages in this world?” The answer is: “Because God wanted there to be many different humans.” Likewise for other questions; “Why are there two sexes and not one or three?”, “Why are there three spatial dimensions?” In this fictional world, all questions would end up being answered ultimately by “God”, and this would include questions of physics and biology. The division of faith and reason would be different in the Fictional World, and science would perhaps be a sub-field of theology.

Even from an atheistic perspective, it’s in principle possible  to create a universe or even a multiverse by intelligent design.  Anyway, here we shall imagine that we have a world where all rational beings were created by some “God”. Furthermore, this God’s whole purpose in creating them has something to do with ethics. In CW, we know for sure  that CW  was created specifically for the purpose of generating a large population of ethical subjects, giving them a set of Ethical Laws to obey or disobey, recording and evaluating the results, and then upon death uploading their minds into God’s Big Server (“Heaven”) where they will be categorized and stored for other purposes which humans cannot comprehend. We don’t have to understand why God is doing this in this thought experiment. We know he exists and He has revealed His desires to us, so the Euthyphro dilemma is not a problem for CWT.  All we need to know is that the ultimate purpose for the Universe is the exercise of ethical agency (“Free Will”), and for the final tabulation/evaluation of ethical decisions (“The Day of Judgement”). So the key thing to know is that CW has a proven theory which explains what ethics is, how ethics came to be, and what ethics is “for” (in Aristotle, the “final cause”).  It also turns out that this CWT is useful for clarifying certain ambiguities and questions of application of the Ethical Law; since we know what ethics is for, we have a set of principles for resolving any difficulties concerning ethics that may arise.

God as the “Arkhe

The role that we have assigned God in the above argument is what the Greeks called the “Arkhe“, which means “the first principle” that all explanations necessarily must lead back to or be based on. The idea of an Arkhe is clearly common to both philosophy, science, ethics, religion and politics. It is the subject matter of not only philosophers but also the Prophets, Saints and Sages the world over. They have tried to refer all explanations (of both facts and values alike) back to a common source, and humans tend to accept that this is valid. Humans clearly make a distinction between values which are valid and those which are not, even those humans who claim to believe in a “fact-value distinction”.  In a future work, we shall focus on G’ E’ Moore’s “Open Question” argument, which is the most subtle and popular defence of the fact/value distinction in ethical theory. But here we shall show that this distinction is dubious by reference to the Arkhe and its relations to ethics. The role of the “Arkhe” is here taken by God, and it follows from the fact that God is the Arkhe that His will determines which Values are true, and thus bridges the fact-value distinction.
After the idea of Ethical Telos is illustrated by the example of God in the CW and CWT, this opens the way for naturalistic value theory. Because in the real world nature is the Arkhe.

The Case of the “Value-Atheist”

But let’s say that in this world we have some ignorant Dogmatic Atheists. In spite of the existence of a well-founded theory that explains physics, biology and ethics in a set of parsimonious and coherent laws, there are a few ‘irreligious extremists’ who refuse to ‘believe in’ God. I put ‘believe in’ in quotes because CW atheists are different from atheists in our world. In CW, there are very few people who think that God does not exist (‘metaphysical atheists’) , since God has been proven to exist by secular CW cosmology and biology. In CW, atheists tend to believe that even though a God exists, this God has no right to boss us around with his so-called ‘Moral Law’. We shall call these atheists ‘axiological atheists’ (or ‘AA’); they might say that “Sure God made us, but who is He to force us to suffer and die for no good reason? I never voted him God!  He might send me to Hell for saying this, but that would just be yet another wrong done to humanity by God. Just because God can enforce his so-called ‘laws’ does not make him right. After all, you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. That would be the naturalistic fallacy.”

So my question for you is this- does the CW atheist have any ground to stand on, or is he merely using words (such as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’) in a way that ignores their ‘real’ meaning? ( I mean ‘real’ in CW, not real in our world.)  When the CW theist (CWT) uses ethical terms, these terms can be ‘cashed out’ in CW reality, can have truth values, are provable, and have practical results (what I call “empirical meaning”). But what about the AA? What does ethics mean for him? Basically, he is not completely without a basis, since he is using the God’s  Moral Law as premises in his arguments, but he is using them wrongly, in a way that ignores the context of the Ethical Telos in CWT. This is against CW’s well-founded scientific theories which explain everything in CW and CW itself. So basically this the “Axiological Atheist” is saying that the fact that he does not like God is more valid than all of CW-human science put together. (Kind of like how people say that they do not like evolutionary ethics in our world.)

Does the AA have anything to say for himself? Not much, He can call the CWTs ‘reductionists’, since they try to ‘reduce’ value statements to factual statements. But the application of this label only seems compelling to people who have an ethics without any basis in fact. It’s hard to see how you can ‘explain’ anything at all without ‘reducing’ it to something else.  Since Aristotle, ‘explanation’ has come to mean ‘to subsume a particular under a wider universal’, with said universal being agreed upon by all or most of those who would know. In rejecting what he calls ‘reductionism’, in this way, the AA has also rejected the basis of all explanation.

My point here is that if we have a well-founded theory about the origin of ethical beings, the purpose of ethics, the conditions for the survival of ethical beings, and rules for the change of ethical cultures over time, explanation for why people find certain things ethical or not (like Jonathan Haidt’s moral psychology), then we know what ethics “is”. Some of us might not like it, but they are in the same situation as the axiological atheist; they ultimately (by ‘ultimately’ I mean ‘in philosophy or science’ (or strictly speaking “from the perspective of the Arkhe“) have no right to use ethical concepts in any way that cannot be cashed out in terms of our world’s scientific theory, whether this theory is CWT (in Creation World) or whether it is based on Evolutionary Game Theory, as in our world.

In every sense,  CWT and actual Natural Science play the same role in their respective worlds, and those who claim that ethics is somehow exempt from rational principles are in the same philosophical predicament in both worlds.

I’m aware that being “anti-science” in the sense I am using here. (refusal to accept science as normative) has significant adaptive potential, something which I believe explains the real-world existence of ‘axiological theism’ w.r.t evolutionary theories of ethics. Basically the ultimate principle of axiological a/theism is ‘I don’t like how ethics actually is, and it seems hard to imagine that I would dislike what is right and ethical.’ To which we answer: “You’re not the only person who cannot imagine that they are wrong. However,  you cannot overthrow all of established scientific theory, and thus we can only consider you wrong. Your beliefs have no basis in an well-established over-arching theory that defines the realm of ethical beings.”

What are ethical beings with respect to the merely natural?

For Selection Theory, ethical beings  are a subset of the realm of animals (beings with sensation and movement), which are a subset of the realm of living beings (which undergo Darwinian evolution), which is a subset of physical beings ( which undergo change over time and space ).  Thus ethical beings inherit many attributes from higher genera, and ethics can be seen from a real context that provides its arkhe. In this context, we can define ethical beings most simply as “animals having language” or “political animals”. These two definitions are functionally identical; they both imply that the human survival strategy is implemented in a social structure implemented with language.  In short, this means we have a ‘multiagent system’ as opposed to a single-agent system such as we find in a “hive mind”.

The advantage of a hive-mind are clear for insects, since each individual in the hive is not intelligent at all, but together they can accomplish much. Humans gain a similar advantage from their cultural storage of knowledge, but the freedom of mind typical of a human society means that we are ‘historical beings’. Eusocial hive minds are static; they have been around for millions of years and yet have much the same survival strategies and ecological niches now as they did in previous epochs. Humans are dynamic in occupying new niches and developing new strategies; this is the hallmark of increased fitness from an evolutionary standpoint. This means that humans are objectively ‘better’ and that human political structures are ‘better’  because they demonstrate more innovation while maintaining sustainability over the long run . Of course, even if we grant this point there is much to argue about which version of modern civilization embodies evolutionary values the most, but at least we have the outlines for putting our ethical and political debates on a solid theoretical footing, without having to worry out people pulling ‘oughts’ out of some wormhole. Instead, they will be ‘reduced’ to starting with some statement of fact or a counterfactual framed in terms of a well-established scientific theory. This latter choice is the basis for evolutionary ethics.

For a further treatment of this ontology, check out my other posts, especially:here . Enjoy!

Further issues with the theory

The “Open Question” Argument – There is a more refined argument for the fact/value distinction that I have not yet dealt with: G’ E’ Moore’s “Open Question” argument, which is what most professional philosophers will bring up against Evolutionary Ethics. Against this I have dedicated an article found here.. [Upcoming!]